What Is a Single-Member LLC? | Everything You Should Know

Delina Chantel Yasmeh
Published by Delina Chantel Yasmeh | Author
Last updated: April 10, 2024
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Understanding a single-member LLC is crucial if you're a solo entrepreneur or considering starting an LLC independently.

As an expert with a deep understanding of the corporate landscape, I've spent considerable time studying the intricacies of a popular single-member LLC business entity.

During my research, I also partnered with our legal consultants to give you a more in-depth answer to the question at hand.

This article aims to provide a concise yet informative overview of what single-member LLCs entail, their benefits, and the essential considerations when setting one up.

Quick Summary

  • A single-member LLC (SMLLC) is a structure owned and operated by one individual.
  • A single-member LLC offers advantages such as pass-through taxation, limited liability for the owner, and flexibility in decision-making.
  • According to IRS tax statistics, in 2020, there were 2.8 million single-member LLC returns filed, indicating their increasing popularity among entrepreneurs.
  • I find the balance between the ease of setup and the potential drawbacks particularly insightful for entrepreneurs considering the SMLLC structure.


What Is A Single-Member LLC?

A person monitoring his single member LLC business

A single-member LLC, also known as an SMLLC, is a popular business structure for entrepreneurs looking for liability protection and tax benefits while maintaining simplicity in ownership and management.

As the name suggests, an SMLLC is owned and operated by a single individual, offering several advantages that make it an attractive option for small business owners.

This grants the owner complete control over the business's operations, decision-making processes, and strategic direction without the need for additional partners or shareholders.

According to the IRS statistical data, in 2020, there were 2.8 million single-member LLC returns filed, showing significant growth from just 126,000 in 2001 and indicating their increasing popularity among entrepreneurs.

Additionally, the data showed single-member LLCs represented 9.8% of all Schedule C filers in the same year, a notable increase from the 2.3% recorded in 2001, highlighting the expanding role of these entities in the broader business landscape [1].

How to Form a Single-Member LLC?

A single member LLC working on the phone

Forming a single-member LLC involves several essential steps to establish the business as a separate legal entity with the state.

Each step is crucial for ensuring compliance and maximizing the benefits of operating as an LLC.

1. Choosing a Unique Name

The first step is selecting a unique name for the LLC. The name must comply with the state's naming requirements, which usually include the term "Limited Liability Company" or its abbreviation (LLC).

Additionally, the name should not be already in use by another business entity.

2. Appointing a Registered Agent

Next, appointing a registered agent is mandatory for an LLC. The LLC registered agent is responsible for receiving legal documents, official notices, and correspondence on behalf of the business.

They must have a physical address within the state and be available during regular business hours.

3. Filing Articles of Organization

To formally establish the single-member LLC, the owner must file the LLC Articles of Organization with the state's appropriate agency, usually the Secretary of State or the State Corporation Commission.

The LLC Articles of Organization provide essential details about the LLC, such as its name, purpose, registered agent, and business address.

4. Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An Employer Identification Number (EIN)  is a unique nine-digit identifier assigned by the IRS to business entities for tax purposes.

Even if the single-member LLC does not have employees, obtaining an EIN is necessary to open an LLC bank account, file tax forms, and conduct various financial transactions.

5. Creating an Operating Agreement (Optional)

While not required in all states, creating an LLC Operating Agreement for a single-member LLC is highly recommended.

This internal document outlines the LLC's ownership structure, management procedures, decision-making processes, and the distribution of profits and losses.

It helps to establish the LLC's legitimacy and provides a clear framework for operating the business.

The Advantages of Single-Member LLCs

Forming a single-member LLC comes with many advantages, including: 

1. Pass-Through Taxation

According to the IRS, a single-member LLC is a disregarded entity for federal income tax purposes [2].

A significant advantage of a single-member LLC is its tax treatment. Unlike corporations, SMLLCs are considered "pass-through entities," meaning the business does not pay business income taxes.

Instead, the profits and losses of the LLC are "passed through" to the owner, and they report these amounts on the owner’s personal tax return [3].

This avoids the double taxation that corporations may face with their current business income.

2. Limited Liability for the Single Member

Limited liability protection is another crucial benefit of forming a single-member LLC. This means that the personal assets of the sole member are shielded from the business's debts and liabilities.

If the LLC faces financial difficulties or legal disputes, the owner's personal assets, such as their home or savings, are generally protected from business-related claims.

3. Flexibility in Decision-Making

As the sole owner, an entrepreneur enjoys high flexibility and autonomy in making business decisions.

This streamlined decision-making process enables quick responses to market changes and business opportunities without requiring extensive consultations or approvals from other members.

The Disadvantages of Single-Member LLCs

While single-member LLCs offer numerous advantages, it is essential to be aware of potential drawbacks in order to make informed decisions.

1. Limited Capital Raising Potential

As the sole owner, a single-member LLC may face challenges when seeking additional capital for business expansion or investment opportunities.

Unlike multi-member LLCs, which can bring in new members to invest in the company, an SMLLC must rely on personal funds, loans, or other external sources to raise capital.

2. Potential Lack of Credibility

Some businesses may perceive Single-Member LLCs as less credible than larger entities or corporations.

In certain industries, having multiple members or shareholders might create a perception of stability and professionalism, which could be beneficial for attracting clients, partners, or investors.

3. Piercing the Corporate Veil Risk

Maintaining the separation between personal and business finances is critical for protecting limited liability.

If the owner fails to do so, a court may "pierce the corporate veil," holding the owner personally liable for business debts and obligations.

To avoid this risk, owners must treat the limited liability company as a separate entity and refrain from commingling personal and business funds.

How Are Single-Member LLCs Taxed?

Tax documents

Single-member LLCs are taxed based on IRS stipulations that mandate reporting business income and losses on Schedule C (Form 1040) [4].

Single-person LLCs are not required to pay taxes (federal income tax) or report independently.

Single-member LLC owners also pay self-employment tax. Self-employment taxes make SMLLCs different from other business entities, such as corporations and limited partnerships.

Single-Member LLC vs. Sole Proprietorship Business

A positive man working on his laptop

The primary distinction between a single-member LLC and a sole proprietorship lies in the level of liability protection and legal separation from the business.

While a sole proprietorship does not create a separate legal entity, an SMLLC provides limited liability protection for the owner.

A sole proprietorship does not offer limited liability protection, meaning the owner is personally liable for all business debts and legal claims. On the other hand, an SMLLC shields the owner's personal assets from business liabilities.

"The first advantage of a having an LLC compared to a sole proprietorship is limited liability. If you own an LLC, then only the assets of the LLC are going to be liable, or exposed to risk, if your company gets sued or has other creditors. If you have a sole proprietorship, then there is no separation of assets and thus no liability protection."

- Jon Morgan, CEO, Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter

From a taxation standpoint, both business structures follow pass-through taxation, but an SMLLC provides the additional benefit of limited liability protection.

When choosing between a single-member LLC and a sole proprietorship, entrepreneurs should consider their risk tolerance, the nature of the business, and the desire for limited liability protection.

While a sole proprietorship may be simpler and require no formal registration, an SMLLC offers added asset protection and the perception of a more professional business entity.

Single-Member LLC vs. Multi-Member LLC

Cheerful young businessman

Comparing an SMLLC to an MMLLC involves understanding the implications of ownership, management, taxation, and decision-making processes.

The main distinction between the two lies in the number of owners involved. While an SMLLC has only one LLC member, a multi-member LLC consists of multiple owners or members.

In a single-member LLC, the owner retains complete control over business decisions and management.

In contrast, a multi-member LLC requires collaborative decision-making among the members, which may lead to potential conflicts or more complex governance processes.

Both single-member and multi-member LLCs enjoy pass-through taxation, but the reporting requirements for multi-member LLCs may be more complex due to the involvement of multiple owners.

Entrepreneurs should assess their desired level of control, management structure, and potential for growth when deciding between a single-member and a multi-member LLC.

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FAQs

Does a Single-Member LLC Need a Business Bank Account?

A single-member LLC needs a business bank account to maintain a clear financial separation between personal and business funds. This separation aids in legal liability protection and ensures accurate bookkeeping. It also helps demonstrate the legitimacy of the business, making financial transactions smoother and enhancing overall credibility.

Can a Single-Member LLC Have Employees?

A single-member LLC can indeed have employees. The structure allows the owner to hire and manage staff legally. Employees' status remains distinct from the owner's, providing various benefits and aiding business growth. Ensure proper compliance with labor laws and obtain an EIN when hiring employees for a single-member LLC.

Can a Single-Member LLC Be Converted Into a Different Business Structure?

A single-member LLC can be converted into an alternative business structure, such as a multi-member LLC, corporation, or partnership, through a formal process. This conversion allows for potential benefits in terms of liability protection, taxation, and operational flexibility, aiding businesses in adapting to evolving needs.

References:

  1. https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/soi-a-insp-id2301.pdf
  2. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/single-member-limited-liability-companies
  3. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/9-facts-about-pass-through-businesses/
  4. https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-schedule-c-form-1040

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